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Leica SL + Leica 24-90mm - Being a Tourist

Leica SL + Leica 24-90mm - Being a Tourist

It's almost as if I've forgotten how to use anything but a prime lens. On the first couple of shots, I actually moved backwards and forwards in framing Anna. Then like a dummy, it dawned on me that I had a zoom lens on my Leica SL. The fact that I wasn't naturally turning the zoom adjustment ring to get closer doesn't mean that I don't use zoom lenses. I use it rather liberally with Canon gear. But strangely, even with it, I tend to stay at the longest focal length.

To be honest, I do have a bias against medium zoom lenses. I don't understand why anyone would want to carry the extra weight and size, when going backwards and forwards a couple of steps with a smaller prime would do the same in most framing situation. From my perspective, it makes more sense to carry a faster lens, if you don't mind the extra weight and size.

But with the Leica 24-90mm Vario, I made an exception. Despite being a medium zoom lens, it was an autofocus Leica lens. That intrigued me, because I've never used a full frame interchangeable autofocus Leica lens before. I mean I've used plenty of autofocus lenses, but never one with the potential of rendering that fabled Leica look.

Shot at 24mm, f/4, ISO 70, 1/250th of a second. Literally my first shot with the 24-90mm Vario.

You would think that I'm shooting from 35mm. But you'd be wrong. Still at 24mm stepping closer to Anna.

Definitely not 50mm here. Still at 24mm. A couple of steps closer.

Eventually, the idea of not using my feet to frame the shot sunk into my thick skull. Not exactly a Eureka moment, but all the same a very shaming moment. I comforted myself with the fact that I've been up since 4:00 in the morning, and already did a full workout and had two meals before accompanying Anna on this tourist trek, 10:00 in the morning. It's nearing the end of August, and the temperature still reaches the mid ninety's here in Hong Kong (which is roughly the mid thirty's in Celsius). So it was important that we had an early start to avoid the heat of the midday sun.

The plan for today was to trek the tourist route from Central, Hong Kong to Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, the mainland side of Hong Kong. We had crossed the pedestrian walkway from the International Finance Centre to the newly landscaped public space by the Central Pier. Already, the sun was blazing, casting strong shadows and blowing highlights. But not surprisingly, the sensor of the Leica SL handled the lighting reasonably well, with much of the details saved and recoverable on post. 

It was then I realized that my aperture had been set at f/4 all this time - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. At least with low ISO, the files will be exceptionally clean. However, I was going to get clean files, even if I shot at ISO 400 or even 800, under this bright sun. From my perspective, it made more sense to stop down under the bright sun, than to shoot wide or wider open. When you're a tourist outside documenting your trek, stopping down for sharpness makes perfect sense.

A comparison of focal length. 24mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second

A comparison of focal length. 28mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second

A comparison of focal length. 35mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second

A comparison of focal length. 50mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second

A comparison of focal length. 75mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second

A comparison of focal length. 90mm, f/4, ISO 50, 1/500th of a second


In truth, I didn't find the lens exceptionally sharp when stopped down. When I examined the lead eye, it doesn't seem to be popping out of the screen, especially when the images are under magnification. Perhaps it was user error that made me missed focus. However, I didn't think that was likely, given my aperture was at a very generous f/8. Even if I missed actual focus, I should have at least been able to recover focus from the depth of field.

Perhaps it was just too bright outside, which at times can drown out details. Or perhaps there was too much backlight that the underexposed subject lost contrast, especially in post on Lightroom? Then all of a sudden, I realized I didn't shoot a close-up lead-eye image stopped-down, to actually determine the sharpness of this lens. Think I goofed here.

28mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/500th of a second.

35mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/500th of a second.

50mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/500th of a second.


Beginning to feel the heat of the approaching midday sun, we ducked into the shade, and proceeded to get across to Kowloon by the cross harbor Star Ferry. To be honest, it's not really the most efficient way to get across to the other side, but it is still the most iconic method - especially from a tourist's point of view.

It was under the cover of the ferry's canopy that I took a couple more shots stopped down. I was reasonably sure that my previous issue with sharpness was an anomaly. Still, I had to make sure. In the end, I am reasonably satisfied with it's sharpness stopped down. 

35mm, ISO 1000, f/8, 1/500th of a second.

50mm, ISO 1000, f/8, 1/500th of a second.

90mm, ISO 1000, f/8, 1/500th of a second.

The destination of the trek in Kowloon was the Peninsula Hotel. Normally, the thing to do in Hong Kong is to go to the hotel's lobby café for high tea. Unfortunately, I had a time issue, and really didn't want to wait in line, come 2:00 in the afternoon. Instead we made due a couple of hours earlier. 

Outside the Peninsula Hotel.

Of course, having tea wasn't the reason for going there. The actual purpose was to see how the Leica 24-90mm Vario performed in lower light. Overall, I have to say it performed reasonably well. It might be a very long lens, but it didn't feel so long that I couldn't take any proper images at the table. 24mm was amply wide, with 35mm being the optimal focal length to establish the setting and isolate the subject.

However, what I thought was the most important observation from this set of images was just how wonderfully the Leica 24-90mm Vario rendered that iconic Leica look. Shot wide open, the Leica 24-90mm Vario renders bokeh superbly, especially at higher focal lengths.

Cappuccino at the lobby café. 24mm, wide open at f/2.8

35mm, wide open at f/3.1

50mm, wide open at f/3.6

90mm, wide open at f/4. The bokeh here has that characteristic Leica look!

Close up at minimum focusing distance.

Close up at minimum focusing distance. 90mm

By the time we finished with tea, the midday sun was overhead. I didn't want to walk back to the ferry, or take the subway back to Hong Kong side. So instead, I ordered an Uber, and made our way back. Besides, it offered a final photo opportunity - to see how well the lens did in tight quarters. The backseat of the Uber isn't what one would call roomy. Still, in such a tight situation, the Leica 24-90mm Vario was able to get the shot, at 24mm and all the way to 90mm.

In an Uber going back to Hong Kong side, 24mm

Now closer at 50mm.

Even closer at 90mm.

So how do I feel about the 24-90mm Vario?

I have to admit that things got off to a shaky start. I can't say that I was impressed with it, initially. But in the end, I have to say that I was really taken by it. The Leica 24-90mm Vario renders images like a Leica. It does have that special Leica look to it. It's sharp wide open in the center, and it renders bokeh exceptionally well at higher focal lengths. The only complaint I have with the lens is its size.

Then again, for such a big lens, you get autofocus - and for some - being able to autofocus an interchangeable Leica lens to get that Leica look is worth the extra weight. And by the way, the autofocus isn't bad. For starters, it was easy to acquire focus. The focusing motor was silent. The autofocus point is arranged in a diamond shape grid, with the top center autofocus point relatively close to the top of the frame. That I liked very much, because it made focusing the eyes so much easier if you're framing edge to edge a standing subject, from head to toe.

Overall, I am of the opinion that the Leica 24-90mm Vario is a fantastic lens that works well with the Leica SL's autofocus system. 

All images in this writeup are full crop. Images have been optimize in Lightroom - however only slightly.

Special thanks to Anna!

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